8/28/2016 Sermon – Faith Attitude #1: “Humility”

Faith Attitude.  This morning, I’m beginning a short series called “Faith Attitude.”  As we have faith, as we believe in the unseen God and what God has done for us through the risen Christ, we are changed.  Faith creates a way of seeing ourselves and the world – an attitude.  Our attitude can govern how God uses us to make a difference, to change the world, to communicate God’s love to the people around us.  Next week, we’ll think about mercy, and the week after that, encouragement.

Who is the most humble person you know, or have known?  It wouldn’t be because they tell you; you would know because you see it.  Humility is a little difficult to describe.  One definition goes like this:

 “A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a humble opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God’s sake.”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humility)

Owning your own defects (certainly not something our culture encourages).  Submitting yourself to God – and to others for God’s sake.  Growing faith always moves from inner to outer, from self to God and others.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

I truly believe that through faith, God can give you the self-confidence you might have been missing.  God uses the Spirit to make us strong people, especially when we feel weak and vulnerable.  In the midst of your “defects,” God helps you know that you are in strong hands, you are okay.  Now help someone else.  That is how faith works.

I think it’s an interesting contrast to be doing worship and thinking about something like humility during an election cycle.  I don’t know if you’d agree, but humility doesn’t seem to be a major trait of candidates.  I’m always wondering, is this what we want our political leaders to be teaching our kids?  When does someone cross the line from self-confidence to arrogance?

It’s around this time you can find sermons and articles that describe the campaign of Jesus, as if Jesus was running for office, which, of course, he never did.  He was obeying God’s will for our sake and was never looking for votes.  In fact, he had a way of saying things that sometimes upset even his followers.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is walking to Jerusalem with an entourage.  The people in that crowd can’t grasp that he going to Jerusalem to be sacrificed.

Luke 14. On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy [edema/swelling].3And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?’ 4But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?’ 6And they could not reply to this.

7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

The apostle Paul describes the humility of Jesus and how God works that humility in us through faith:

Philippians 2 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Walking the Abrahamic Trail between Nazareth and Jerusalem. CN - 2011.
Walking the “Abrahamic Trail” between Nazareth and Jerusalem. CN – 2011.

Jesus is walking along, more and more people following him all the time, stopping at villages along the way, and sometimes having dinner at the house of a village leader.  Since Jesus was a popular person by now, this meant having a feast, with lots of guests.  This feast is being put on by a Pharisee, one of the religious rulers who generally did not particularly care for Jesus or his style of ministry.  You see, Jesus had a reputation for breaking certain rules, especially Sabbath-day rules.  The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest and reflection.  You aren’t supposed to do much of anything.  The problem was that these rules kept people from doing certain good things, helpful things, like Jesus’ healing people.

It seems that most Pharisees were not supportive of Jesus, so do you wonder why this Jewish ruler was having a party for Jesus when he probably was uncomfortable with having him in the house?  Maybe he felt obligated since there were so many people from the neighborhood following Jesus.  Maybe it was a good political move.

There happened to be a man at the party who was sick.  I think that Jesus may have invited him.  I believe that sometimes, for him to get his message across, he created these circumstances.  It’s the Sabbath, he’s at a Pharisee’s house, it’s a good time to heal somebody.  It’s a demonstration: here’s what they say, here’s what I say.  Here’s what they do, here’s what I do.  Now, which do you think is better?

Jesus heals the man, then puts his host on the spot. At least for this guy, the host, Jesus is a lousy dinner guest.  And I can just hear somebody in the crowd saying, “Oh, no.  He’s going to heal on the Sabbath again.  I keep telling Jesus how angry that makes these guys.”

Not to worry, though, because it seems that many of the people there were more concerned about where they were sitting than about the healing, which brings us to Jesus’ second mistake.  Jesus’ talked about the other guests, and probably made come of them feel uncomfortable.  Jesus miraculously heals someone, but off in the corner of the room, I hear a voice from the dinner table saying, “Say, that’s my seat – I deserve some respect, you know.”

Silly middle-eastern people.  An interesting story about how folks acted in that culture such a long time ago.  We don’t make any rules that keep us from doing good things, do we?  I have to think about that one.  And do we tend to be more concerned about ourselves than the pain that might be as close as the person next to us?  Do we have habits or traditions or attitudes that keep us from serving others?

One of Luke’s themes in his gospel is how we should serve the poor a part of our discipleship, as part of our Christian living – the things we do to feel fulfilled as Christians.

This story says that what comes between us and this feeling of fulfillment and joy as followers of Christ is a lack of humility.  A need to achieve position.  A need to be served.    Let me suggest that your practice of humility should include regular expressions of gratitude; it doesn’t matter to whom.  Give a compliment to someone today.  Always be ready to offer an apology, even if you’re not sure to need to.  Get the focus off of yourself.

This all seems so heavy, maybe because it shines a spotlight on my own defects.  I need to remind myself that God wants us to experience joy.  To be content.  The purpose of scripture is show us how.  Jesus did say…

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.  Luke 14:13-14

You will be blessed… fulfilled, by putting your pride, putting yourself aside and serving, meeting people’s needs instead of keeping a running list of your own.  God has ways of instilling humility in us when we may be resistant to doing it on our own.

William Barton was a Congregational minister in the early 1900’s.  He wrote a newspaper column in the style of an Old Testament prophet speaking in King James English.  I think you’ll enjoy this story…

William Barton (1861-1930)
William Barton (1861-1930)

There is a certain Millionaire, who hath his Offices on the Second Floor of the First National Bank Building.  And when he goeth up to his offices, he rideth the Elevator, but when he goeth down, he walketh.

Bank 1

And he is paid Rent regularly on the first day of the month, and he considereth not that there are Human Beings who run the Elevators, and who Clean the Windows, hanging at great height above the Sidewalk, and who shovel Coal into the furnaces under the Boilers.  Neither doth he at Christmas time remember them with a Tip or a Turkey.

And there is in that Building a Poor Woman who scrubbeth the Stairs and the Halls.  And he hath walked by her often but hath never seen her until Recently.  For his head was high in the air, and he was thinking of More Millions.

Now it came to pass on a day that he left his Office, and started to walk down the stairs.

And the Scrublady was halfway down; for she had begun at the top, and was giving the stairs their first Onceover.  And upon the topmost Stair, in a wet and soapy spot, there was a Large Cake of Yellow Soap.  And the Millionaire stepped on it.

Now the foot which he set upon the Soap flew eastward toward the Sunrise, and the other foot started on a journey of its own toward the going down of the Sun.  And the Millionaire sat down on the Topmost step, but he did not remain there.  As it had been his Intention to Descend, so he Descended, but not in the manner of his Original Design.  And as he descended he struck each step with a sound as if it had been a Drum.

And the Scrublady stood aside courteously, and let him go by.

And at the bottom he arose, and considered whether he should rush into the Office of the Building and demand that the Scrublady be fired; but he considered that if he should tell the reason, there would be great Mirth among the occupants of the Building.  And so he held his peace.

But since that day, he taketh notice of the Scrublady, and passeth her with circumspection.

For there is no one so high and mighty that he can afford to ignore any of his fellow human beings.  For a very Humble Scrublady and a very common bar of Yellow Soap can take the mind of a great man off his Business Troubles with surprising rapidity.

Wherefore consider these things, and count not thyself too high above even the humblest of God’s children.

Lest thou come down swiftly from thy place of pride and walk off with bruises aching a little more by reason of thy suspicion that the Scrublady is Smiling into her Suds, and facing the day’s work more cheerfully by reason of the fun thou hast afforded her.

For these are solemn days, and he that bringeth a smile to the face of a Scrublady hath not lived in vain.

[adapted from: William E. Barton, The Millionare and the Scrublady, and Other Parables, Garth Rosell and Stan Flewelling, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990)]

Prayer

O God, we admit that we come here to get away.  We come to this sanctuary from the world in hopes that you give us direction and peace. Our world is filled with violence and greed – we pray for the victims of war, our government, the forgotten, the lost.

Help us to be a people who make a difference, not only through our prayers, our votes and our hopes, but also by our witness to the world. Teach us to treat others as we would be treated. Keep us from depersonalizing those we don’t know and treating them as statistics. Help us to remember that each person has feeling and hope and no one is so foreign that he or she deserves to be forgotten.  All of this takes humility.

Give us the wisdom and power to take from this sanctuary the will to make a difference where we are and wherever we might be in this world, as you have made a difference in us. Amen.